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Reel Youth helps incarcerated kids create life-changing music videos

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“I knew we were doing something right when one of the girls who was being released before the program finished, requested to stay an extra day,” explained Mark Vonesch of Vancouver's Reel Youth organization.
Vonesch directed a four-day literacy program, partnering Reel Youth with young women and men from the Burnaby Youth Custody Centre. The idea was to create music videos about life behind bars. The videos have just been released online. The youth who participated in the project used masks, animation, shadows and silhouettes to protect their identities.

 Image from Ignite My Flame

The video made by the young women is titled Ignite My Flame.

 Image from Ignite My Flame

The video by the young men is titled Hope Behind Bars.

The project has given youth participants the opportunity to express raw truth through creativity.  It provided them with positive outlets to transform darkness into art, wisdom and strength.
 Image from Ignite My Flame

Zoe Miles and I recently attended the first screening of the music videos at the Burnaby Youth Custody Centre during the family holiday recital. It was an experience that expanded my perception of youth custody.
As we drove to the screening, we acknowledged the fact that we had no idea what to expect. We arrived at the custody centre early. Our valuables were secured in a locker. Staff members emphasized security and confidentiality as we were escorted through a series of secure passages.
 Image from Ignite My Flame

We eventually reached the gymnasium where staff members prepared for their holiday family recital. The walls were a dull institutional green.
Vibrant holiday decorations disrupted the colour scheme. Charlie Brown Christmas music played in the background. It was easy to forget where we were...until a reminder. A woman noticed a pair of scissors on the table. “Who left these out? We can never leave scissors lying around.” 
                 Image from Ignite My Flame

The staff we met seemed to embody attentive caution and patient compassion. We spoke with a prison guard named Joe and discussed his experience with the Reel Youth music video project. Joe has worked in prisons for over 25 years. His eyes have seen everything, but they remain bright. He sees the potential in each prisoner.

 Image from Ignite My Flame

“It was nice to see the kids working together without putting each other down,” he explained.  “When I saw them all cooperating and creating these music videos, they became motivated and focused while they worked. A lot of the negativity dropped away. It was remarkable,” said Joe.

The gymnasium began to fill with families and youth. As the recital began, it felt like any other holiday recital in a regular high school gymnasium. The warmth of the lights and music seemed to suspend the heavy reality carried by the crowd. The sound of walkie talkies strapped to the prison guards disrupted the still room.

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